An Unexpected Journey

About three feet off the ground, a round wooden door with a perfectly centered doorknob swings open. From the other side of the threshold, a bearded face appears, but it’s not a hobbit that emerges from the curved maple wood caravan. Ben Hayward, a 24-year-old Canadian slalom kayaker, has fashioned himself a hobbit-style home on the bed of an old LDV Convoy truck to save money while he travels and trains ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Hayward, who’s originally from Edmonton, Alberta, never intended to sleep in an old truck when he set off to Europe. He knew he wanted to live in a van to combine his travel and lodging costs, which are normally huge expenses for athletes traveling to train and race. After three days of searching for the perfect van, he and a friend sat in a pub and, over a pint, hatched a new plan with a napkin and ink.

They acquired the army green, four-door truck with plenty of room for passengers and set to work on construction. Their favourite feature: a grand, round hobbit door.

“I really could pick anything that I wanted,” says Hayward, who put his architecture background to use in designing the home. “I thought that a big round hobbit door would be pretty cool and the rest of the van just kind of took on a hobbit-like theme.”

A fan of the beloved J.R.R Tolkien books that brought readers to Middle Earth, it seemed natural to make his home for the next couple of years an homage to the book’s memorable characters.

Since taking the hobbit caravan on the road for the world cup tour he says, “Pretty much everyone driving by can’t help looking at it and every time I stop someone is asking me about it.”

The cost of building the caravan wasn’t cheap. Hayward launched a website and fundraising campaign to help cover expenses and outfit his living space. He opted to create Vanstarter.com instead of using the more common Kickstarter or Indiegogo crowdfunding sites, since they take a larger cut of the profit than the PayPal service he used. The elements remained the same as a typical crowdfunding campaign: a time limit (60 days), a campaign video (in which he demonstrates his skills by catching a fish by hand while rolling his kayak) and sweet rewards to entice potential donors. Supporters will have their names immortalized on the side of the hobbit home, receive a hand-printed T-shirt, or be mailed a copy of Hayward’s own cookbook, which features recipes that follow his nutrition plan as a national team athlete.

The interior of his home is a work in progress but fits 14 slalom kayaks and is yet to take on the sour scent of neoprene. As construction continues, Hayward’s vision is to keep it rustic looking. “If you imagine the inside of Bilbo Baggins’ house, it’s going to aim in that direction,” he says.  

The hobbit van will get plenty of use while Hayward lives as a full-time athlete leading up to the 2016 Olympics. Go ahead and knock, he may invite you in for tea and, if you’re lucky, a second breakfast.

 

Marissa Tiel is a freelance photographer and writer currently based in Calgary. When not glued to a computer screen, she can be found exploring the local rivers and trails. Find her on Twitter @marissatiel and at marissatiel.com.

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